Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dismantling The Saw About Polygamy and SGM

I see that a former Supreme Court Justice has a very similar take on the polygamy issue to what I have published on this blog before:

Claire L'Heureux-Dube, a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice, does not buy the argument that polygamy should be allowed in Canada in the name of freedom of religion.

"It is contrary to the equality of the sexes," L'Heureux-Dube said Thursday at a breakfast conference organized by Fatima Houda-Pepin, deputy Speaker of the Quebec national assembly.

L'Heureux-Dube, who has no problem with same-sex marriage, said the law is already clear in Canada and polygamy does not have the same acceptance as same-sex marriage.


"Marriage is a union of two people, period," she said, adding that Canada's Criminal Code clearly states that polygamy is illegal.

She makes one other very interesting comment, and it is one we should bear in mind when considering related subjects coming out of the United States, as well as some of the goofier things we've seen in Canada:

L'Heureux-Dube noted that in the United States authorities lay charges of sexual exploitation, rather than polygamy, because in the U.S. "freedom of religion has become a religion."

The retired high-court judge, who is still active at 81, said "reasonable accommodation" of religious differences is important, but it must be reasonable.

Revisiting the case of a Montreal YMCA that frosted its windows at the request of its Hassidic Jewish neighbours, she suggested a reasonable course for people who do not want to see women exercising in spandex.

"They should close their eyes," she said.

The simple fact is that the only people who claim any kind of relationship between SGM and Polygamy are the shrieking loons of the religious right. Nobody has ever put forth a single shred of coherent evidence that demonstrates even the slightest equivalency.

The coming trial will be very interesting indeed.


Cardinal Pole said...

"Nobody has ever put forth a single shred of coherent evidence that demonstrates even the slightest equivalency."

You really don't see it? Let me spell it out for you. Conventionally a wife and a husband are considered perfect complements. But the foundation of S.G.M. (hadn't heard of that initialism before--that's the 'trans-friendly' version of S.S.M., is it?) is that a 'husband and a husband' or a 'wife and a wife' are as good as a husband and a wife--that is, husbands and wives become, for S.G.M. advocates, perfect substitutes. But if they are substitutes then it is arbitrary to limit the number in the relationship to two. Indeed, whyever wouldn't it be a matter of 'the more the merrier'?

I'm rather surprised at you though, MgS--I thought that you would be the first to celebrate consenting adults doing whatever they consent to do with each other, yet it seems that you are opposed to polygamy?

MgS said...

Once again, you fail utterly to actually do research and simply make a bunch of blithe assertions of a "slippery slope" argument.

I wrote on my objections to polygamy here. You will note that I do not root my arguments about polygamy in terms of how it violates equality rights, rather than the irrational language of "family values".

As for my use of term SGM, it is simply more precise. Gender is clear, and much less emotionally loaded than 'sex' - which tends to evoke images of certain acts rather than people.

Cardinal Pole said...

"Once again, you fail utterly to actually do research and simply make a bunch of blithe assertions of a "slippery slope" argument."

The first level on which this is ironic is that it seems that I have done quite a bit more research than you; your evidence is taken from a single, highly unsual (and particularly dysfunctional) case, whereas mine isn't just based on religious polygamists but on secular polyamorists and the statements of 'gay rights' groups like Australia's Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (

More importantly though, I didn't raise any "slippery slope" arguments anyway! A 'slippery slope' argument involves asserting that something ought to be rejected because of something with no direct logical connection to it; but here I have demonstrated the logical connection, and you have failed to refute it, preferring to direct me to another post.

So let's look at that other post. In it you set out to explain

“why in a North American (and perhaps more broadly "Western") context [polygamy] is a social structure which does not square with either our social norms or our laws.”

But don’t you see the incongruity here, MgS? As a sodomite visiting my blog said recently, tradition is a fluid thing. Thirty years ago ‘abortion rights’ and ‘gay rights’ didn’t “square with either our social norms or our laws” in the West, but that didn’t stop their respective proponents. You are a liberal, aren’t you MgS? It’s a pretty basic principle of liberalism that any action that enjoys the consent of the parties and does no harm to non-participants is to be permitted. So you’re off to a very weak start here.

In the post you also say that

“(1) Polygamy creates an environment which artificially imposes a secondary status on one of the parties.”
(my emphasis)

I can hardly believe what I’m reading! You are the arbiter of what is artificial and what is natural for other people, are you?! Whatever happened to “Humanity creates morality, twit”? I might simply retort that same-sex pseudo-sexual relationships are also unnatural, and in a much more fundamental way than polygamous relationships. Basically you’re using the ‘social contract’ (subjective standards) as a basis for social norms when that suits your tastes and preferences, and objective standards when that suits your tastes and preference; either way the only thing consistent here is your personal tastes and preferences.

And another big problem with your three points is that you choose a particularly dysfunctional case for your case study; it would be like me picking a particularly dysfunctional same-sex couple and using that as the basis for my opposition to so-called S.G.M. It’s the logical fallacy of defying the principle that ‘abuse does not detract from use’.

And indeed, you go on to acknowledge this!:

“In many respects, this is not a condemnation of polygamy itself, but rather the Texas situation speaks loudly against any tribal social construct that attempts to hold itself apart from the social and legal fabric in society.”

So by your own admission, you have failed to refute the general case for polygamy. And you go on to make these two unsubstantiated assertions:

[1] “that it requires the gender which is on the "many" side of the relationship to accept a subservient status to the singularity (often male)”

Not necessarily. See this post of mine:

[2] “the key distinction I make between polygamous situations and same-gender marriages is that where most same-gender couples wish to exist peacefully within the fabric of society, we cannot make quite the same assessment of polygamy, which seems to often be associated with religious movements that wish to hold themselves apart from the greater body of society.”

That is a very, dare I say it, artificial distinction. I find it incredible that you have fail to see how arbitary is your comparison here between S.G.M. and polyamory. Its weakness is demonstrable simply by swapping ‘polyamorists’ for ‘homosexuals’; it’s your opinion that most same-gender couples just want goodness and light, while polyamorists are mostly deviants, but a polygamist could simply reword your last sentence thus:

‘we cannot make quite the same assessment of same-sex couples, which seem to often be associated with militant gay rights movements that wish to hold themselves apart from the greater body of society.’

I’m sure the polygamists could match you assertion for assertion. You have failed to provide in this post any sound logical or empirical evidence why so-called S.G.M. ought to be legalised but not polyamory. One of your commenters in that post points out, rightly (though obviously I disagree as to its liceity), that

“Poly marriage would probably look like a legally sanctioned subset of polyamourous relationships, crossed with a corporation.”

Simple as that. So to sum up:

1. The fact that at any point in time a society has this or that set of 'social norms and laws' is neither here nor there; cultures change, societies change, laws change.

2. Not all, nor even perhaps most, polyamorists are so because of religious convictions. Many of them are hip and happening mainstream secular people who hold all social norms except monogamy.

3. If polyamory laws can be written so as to guarantee the rights (including, most importantly, the right to enter or leave the relationship without coercion) of each individual involved then how can you possibly object to what would be consensual, externality-free behaviour?
(And there's a little sub-point to make here: if multiple-wife arrangements ought to be rejected because they make women 'second-class citizens', then should the State intervene to prohibit single-wife marriages in which the wife intends freely to forgo her rights and submit to her husband?)

One final point: you say that you base your reasoning on "equality rights". In Australia the G.L.R.L. is advocating so-called 'multi-parent adoption', and in its argument it mentions a case from your own country:

"There is one reported case of a three-parent adoption being granted by the Court of Appeal in Ontario, Canada for a child with two mothers and one father."
(P. 39, P.D.F. available from here:

If a child can have three or more unmarried parents, and a child can have two married parents, then whyever should not three or more parents be able to marry too? Why are they, and their respective children, to be denied equality?

MgS said...

Cardinal Pole:

In my view, polygamy violates a key tenet of the society I live in - the concept of individual equality.

Vis a vis changing tradition, yes things change. So far, nobody has put forth a case for polygamy that addresses that fundamental problem, certainly not in Canada.

If someone wants to put forth an argument that coherently addresses my concerns with polygamy, I'll reconsider my position. It is possible that such a position can reasonably be postulated. I have not seen it done yet.

The adoption case you refer to is extremely narrow in its wording, and very, very specific to a rather unusual situation. It would be very difficult to invert it and use it to justify polygamous marriage.

The difference between me and you, "Cardinal" is that I am willing to reconsider things, rather than simply rigidly applying some dogma to the world around me.

At some point, someone may put forth an argument around polygamy that I can accept - it hasn't happened yet, and the mess in Texas and Bountiful B.C. is a pretty strong example of what is wrong today with the concept.

Cardinal Pole said...

Let me illustrate my main point again, using the first sentence of your response:

"In my view, S.G.M. violates a key tenet of the society I live in - the concept of procreation as an important end of marriage."

You see what I'm saying? You have your opinions, I have mine, others have theirs. You've posted on the rejection of Proposition 8 in, if I recall correctly, California; the voters there found that it would have violated their prevailing social norms. Yet presumably you were all in favour of Proposition 8. Why this inconsistency? Same goes for same-sex adoption. If a poll were taken in most Western countries I suspect that you'd find that a majority of citizens in most countries would think that it violates prevailing social norms. Yet presumably you're all in favour of it. Come on, MgS; you reject polygamy (as do I, of course, though for different reasons--I'm only playing Devil's advocate here, after all) not because of social norms norms but because of your own norms.

You say that

"So far, nobody has put forth a case for polygamy that addresses that fundamental problem, certainly not in Canada."

Just make sure that the law is well-designed. Include a provision in the polyamory laws providing for occasional visits by the authorities to the polyamorists' residences to make sure that no underage/unwilling spouses are there; things like that.

"If someone wants to put forth an argument that coherently addresses my concerns with polygamy, I'll reconsider my position."

The argument is that if everyone involved consents to it and no non-participants are harmed by it then it ought to be permitted. That's a basic liberal tenet, yet you invoke social norms. So let me ask you one last question then: once Canada's social norms have slid far enough into the gutter that there's widespread tolerance for polyamory, will you cease your opposition?

MgS said...

Once again, you're busy putting words in my mouth.

Your analogy to SGM is problematic. Equality is a legally enshrined in rights law (at least here in Canada).

The statement about reproduction as a function of marriage is not enshrined in the legal definition of marriage - anywhere that I am familiar with.

Since we are discussing the legal construct of SGM and the legal construct of polygamy, you are comparing apples and oranges.